PORTLAND — As is often the case with U.S. Open Cup soccer matches, the theme of Wednesday's game between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Portland Timbers is opportunity.
For the Rowdies, this is a chance to follow-up a win over Seattle with another statement victory.
The Rowdies play in the North American Soccer League, currently the second highest level of professional soccer in the United States. Their roster includes former MLS SuperDraft picks, and plenty of players who would love to land in Major league Soccer.
"You'd be naïve to think that the guy you're playing against doesn't want your job, because he does," Timbers captain Will Johnson said.
Given the vital string of Major League Soccer assignments facing the Timbers over the next two weeks, this match also figures to give some lesser-used Portland players a chance to go to show their ability. On Saturday, Portland hosts F.C. Dallas, the top team in the Western Conference. Four days after that is a trip to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy, a challenge that is quickly followed by a June 23 home match against Colorado.
"This 10-day stretch is going to define our season," Johnson said of the three MLS matches. "Are we going to be a team that's fighting for first place, one of those top three teams in the West? Or are we going to be a team that's looking above and below the playoff line?"
Wednesday's match has no bearing on the Timbers' MLS playoff position. But they must win to advance to the quarterfinal round of the Open Cup, a tournament that head coach Caleb Porter has said he wants to win.
Still, as Will Johnson noted on Tuesday, it is counter productive to expect players to play four matches over 13 days at a high level.
"We need to manage minutes," Johnson said. "I don't think that's putting an importance on one thing over the other. I think it's just making sure that we have enough quality guys to win every single game that we play."
Winning tonight figures to be significantly more difficult than was the 5-1 win over the Wilmington Hammerheads two weeks ago that advanced the Timbers to this match.
"You can't take any game lightly in soccer," Timbers midfielder Ben Zemanski said. "Goals are hard to come by in soccer. You take a team lightly, it'll be tough to find goals."
• This match also is an opportunity for fans. This game is not part of the Timbers season-ticket packages, so tickets will be available at the stadium.
• The Rowdies and Timbers played in the 1975 Soccer Bowl for the North American Soccer League championship. Tampa Bay won that 2-0, capping the first season for each of the clubs in the NASL. The match was played on a narrow field at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, which took away the strength of Portland's attack — wingers Willy Anderson and Jimmy Kelly and striker Peter Withe.